Windows 10 on ARM could (should) be a game changer for Microsoft

Windows RT, the version of Windows with native support for ARM processors, failed miserably due to lack of support by developers. Other recent efforts to conquest the mobile space also came to nothing: Project Islandwood and Astoria (port iOS and Android apps to Windows) didn’t get the interest they requested, and it seemed that every attempt on this space was cursed from the beginning.

This situation could really change with the recent announcement from Qualcomm, who has showed how their ARM processors can finally run Windows 10 and Windows software quite well thanks to emulation.

We’ll have to see if this “quite well” is “really well”, but it seems clear that the latest mobile CPUs are really powerful. In fact, most of us underutilize that hardware, so taking advantage of it by supporting this platform could be specially interesting.

This support opens the gate to future smartphones that can become real PCs thanks to Continuum (the problem with Continuum on the Lumia 950/XL was similar to the one Windows RT had), but there are also a nice set of opportunities for new convertibles: a Surface Pro could last longer and include 4G/LTE connetivity for example.

That poses a real opportunity for Microsoft in the mobile space at last, and a real threat for its rivals, who had the software advantage and now could be competing in equal terms. It’s still too soon to judge the result, but this is one of the most promising things Microsoft has in its sleeve.

Let’s hope it’s not the last one.

Source: Microsoft now has the tools to make the Surface Pro the ultimate mobile computer – The Verge

The Chromebook question

I’m currently on vacation so I’ll write less often. I’ll keep reading what’s going on thanks to Twitter and my smartphone, and yesterday I found an interesting article titled ‘Why I left my new MacBook for a $250 Chromebook. There are a few good arguments there to defend a platform that previously wasn’t that easy to support.

The first one: we spend more and more time working and entertaining ourselves on the cloud. There’s an inherent problem there in my opinion: being too much dependent on those services and their servers is really nice and convenient, but you could find yourself losing everything you had there -so safe, so secure, right?- if you are not careful enough.

The second one: Chrome OS support for Android apps is coming, so suddenly we’ve got something that gives us a truly convergent platform from Google. It may be not Remix OS, but it’t a really good way to way to solve the problem taking advantage of both the virtues of Chrome OS and Android. Google seemed pretty stubborn when asked if Chrome OS and Android would merge eventually, and this kind of support finally answers this question.

Mobile and desktop computing, together at last.

This makes Google the owner of one of the greatest and more powerful software platforms ever developed. Only the App Store could compete here, because Microsoft has fallen behind in a segment it owned for so long.

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The author from that post gave a few examples of some apps from OS X that had pretty good alternatives in Chrome OS thanks to their web application versions, but this is almost anecdotal when now we’ll have access to a software catalog with more than 2 million apps -there’s certainly a lot of useless ones- to solve our needs and never look back again to a pure desktop OS.

That could take some time, of course, but for me that conquest of the desktop from mobile OS is the future. Why not buying a Chromebook yet? The time hasn’t come for me yet, but I’ve recently crowdfunded the Superbook at Kickstarter, a device I find even more interesting on the short term.

Better and faster Chromebooks will come in the Fall with the announcement of the final version of Android N. These machines will of course support Android apps as one of their selling points, and maybe there we’ll start to see where this kind of merger develops. Chrome OS and Android will make sense on desktop machines too, so we¡ll be living interesting times on this front as well.

Windows 10 is the annoying boyfriend nobody wants

Windows 10 is a great operating system. It has great features and it’s an ambitious bet for convergence and platform unification. The problem is that once again Microsoft has had big trouble selling its product.

The message was neither clear nor complete. The user was the girl wanting to be conquered. Windows 10 was the aspiring boyfriend.

But it became a boring boyfriend.

It has been unclear on its privacy policy, but it also has been too persistent on trying to conquer that girl. And girls get pretty tired of annoying boys. Those continuous attempts to make users upgrade from their old Windows 7/8/8.1 systems have been more and more irritating, but this final effort has been too much.

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Most girls will say no to the annoying boyfriend. The problem is, many of them could decide they finally want to give this boy and opportunity. And after July 29th they’ll have to pay.

I wonder how many of them will cry out loud and complaing again. At first it was privacy and annoying messages. Later on they will complain about the boy not being free anymore.

My PC is good enough

Yesterday I wrote at Incognitosis (in Spanish) about the latest data that Canalys published about the PC segment. The numbers are crude but real: sales are down for all hardware makers, and even Apple is feeling the pressure.

Analysts from that firm suggested -not really a new argument- that the smartphone is guilty for that reality, but there is at least one more reason:

Your PC (or laptop) is good enough.

I made two polls that would be useful to confirm that idea, but the results were not so definitive as I would have thought. The first question, “How many years have you been using the same PC or laptop?” was pretty conclusive: 7 out of 10 users have a machine that is at least 3 years old.

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The second question was more interesting: “Are you thinking of buying a new PC or laptop?“. The answers were pretty different from what I would have assumed:

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As you may see there (although the poll is in Spanish) there are many people here who is thinking in buying a new desktop PC (around 40%) or a new laptop/convertible (46%) in the next three years. I think my audience is really tech related -the same happens here- so the poll isn’t that definitive in either case, but I would have thought of much more reduced percentages there.

After analysing the results, there’s an obvious fact: we updated our old PCs because we had to. If we didn’t, we were just missing the future. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy those exciting features Windows and its apps and games were giving us. We always want more, but in that case we also needed more in order to  avoid falling behind.

That’s not the case anymore. The market is mature and most people feels no need to upgrade or buy a new PC. Their machines are good enough, and Microsoft has made a big mistake with Windows 10, an OS that runs even better than Windows 8 or Windows 7 in old hardware. What happened with minimum requirements? Suddenly the equation didn’t work for us. And that’s a tragedy for Microsoft, Intel, AMD and all the rest of companies that once were successful thanks to that feeling of being compelled to buy a new PC.

Too bad.

Update to Windows 10 now. Pretty please?

Microsoft has applied all kind of tricks -some of them quite dirty- to try to make Windows 10 its most succesful OS ever, but adoption rate quickly slowed down. The numbers are solid –300M active users at the moment- but not great, and this announcement is different from others.

It’s different because you can see Microsoft is actually begging you -at least, that’s the feeling one gets after watching the video– to upgrade to Windows 10. Even the final sentence in the official announcement from Microsoft’s blog reflects that:

If you’ve already upgraded to Windows 10 – thank you. If you haven’t upgraded yet – we hope you’ll consider upgrading today.

That’s not a good sign and reflects a weak position from a software developer that hasn’t been convincing enough on his proposal. What has failed? Difficult to say, but marketing and communication haven’t been what we expected. Nagging users, downloading the OS to your computer without asking or making us worry about privacy issues haven’t helped.

It will be difficult to solve this problem, and the fact that the upgrade won’t be free in two months time makes Windows 10 situation more problematic. So upgrade now.

Pretty please.

 

#Build2016 signals the death of the Windows phone

Not a single mention. That’s what we had at the Build 2016 keynote from Microsoft a few minutes ago when we tried to get some news from the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

We’ve got lots of other news: the promising rise of the conversational bot (either with voice or with text), the transformation of the Xbox One into a PC, and the surprising arrival of a Linux console natively in Windows 10.

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But again, nothing about Windows on phones. We saw some Lumias on the stage for the demos, yes, but what about new apps, or developer tools, or games for that platform? Nothing was mentioned, and that is the biggest disappointment of a conference that should have followed the ‘Mobile first, cloud first‘ mantra.

It certainly could follow that first part, but not with Windows 10 Mobile, that’s for sure. With a late final version of the OS that isn’t even available on every Windows phone, a diminishing software catalog, an inmature (that’s sad but undertandable given the maturity of the project) Continuum and a worrying lack of devices, the platform has big shadows over it.

#WhereIsWindows10Mobile, Microsoft? Where?

Microsoft Cross-Network is a nice utopia

Microsoft has announced its support for Cross-Network Play, allowing Xbox owners to play games with anyone on PC or PlayStation. First, the caveats – this…

Usually you buy your console based on what your friends already have. Until now that was the only way you could be sure you would enjoy the game experience with them.

Microsoft wants to offer a promising alternative. Its Cross-Network Play technology offers players from every network and platform a unified multiplayer, multiplatform experience.

That means that you would be able to play FIFA 16 (not really right now) with your friends wether they play on the Xbox One,  the PS4 or a PC with Windows.

The problem, of course, is that Sony won’t have much interest in this. They’ve got the upper hand currently, so it’s not that interesting for the winning platform to join the one(s) who are behind.

Nice try from Microsoft, though.

Microsoft isn’t more evil than Google or Apple

UWP first step towards “locking down the consumer PC ecosystem,” says Tim Sweeney.

Microsoft and its universal platform goes beyond using your smartphone as your PC. It’s all about the one thing businesses want more than anything: control.

That’s what Apple has accomplished with its App Store, and what Google has accomplished with Google Play. If you want to install an app or a game, you must do that through the official app stores. There are ways to side load applications in both cases, but the methods are not straightforward for not experienced users.

Tim Sweeney, Epic Games cofounder, has critiziced this kind of approach from Microsoft, but I wonder why he doesn’t compare that to what happens with Apple and Google:

With its new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative, Microsoft has built a closed platform-within-a-platform into Windows 10, as the first apparent step towards locking down the consumer PC ecosystem,” said Sweeney. “Microsoft has launched new PC Windows features exclusively in UWP and is effectively telling developers you can use these Windows features only if you submit to the control of our locked-down UWP ecosystem.”

There are obvious disadvantages to that kind of control -lack of competition from other stores, for example- but no one seems to be crying out loud for the same situation on the most used Operating Systems in our planet.

The Universal Windows Platform is far from perfect and that kind of control is not desireable, but the problem has been real in Android and iOS for years now. Maybe users don’t have a problem at all with all their apps and games being distributed through just one platform, and I don’t see developers protest against the Apple Store, which for many is a great way to sell and distribute their products. The same goes for Google Play, of course.

Everyone is evil here, not just Microsoft.

The new, evolutionary, Xbox One

I’ve been a Xbox One user since its debut, but I’m the minority here in Spain, a country devoted to the PS4. It’s hard to defend that minor position with friends -not many can play along with me- but we can for sure defend it with facts.

One of the latest ones comes from the new update from Phil Spencer at Microsoft, who ‘has hinted that the company will offer optional hardware upgrades for the Xbox One in the future‘.

The path was clear months ago: the universal platform Microsoft is building includes the Xbox One, who will be able to execute not just games but universal apps. As The Guardian explains,

What this could mean is that the Xbox One becomes more like a PC, with Microsoft releasing updated versions at regular intervals with more powerful processors and graphics hardware. In theory, because games will be written as UWAs, older titles will remain compatible with the new machines.

An upgradable console? I don’t see this coming, but I guess Microsoft will be able to make updated, enhanced versions of the console that will improve computing and graphics power and still maintain backwards compatibility thanks to the new software paradigm.

That’s something not easy to do on other consoles, and could effectively transform the Xbox One into something that resembles more and more to a PC.

I wonder if that’s not a danger in itself. Uhm.

Follow up: Mark Walton shares my thinking at Ars Technica UK, where he develops this though with much  more detail. 

 

Microsoft kills its Android porting  tool, welcomes only iOS developers

 

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The Windows Bridge for Android (Project Astoria) is dead. Microsoft has announced that on a new post on the Windows blog in which they explain that apparently the feedback from developers was critical to this decision

We also announced the Windows Bridge for Android (project “Astoria”) at Build last year, and some of you have asked about its status. We received a lot of feedback that having two Bridge technologies to bring code from mobile operating systems to Windows was unnecessary, and the choice between them could be confusing. We have carefully considered this feedback and decided that we would focus our efforts on the Windows Bridge for iOS and make it the single Bridge option for bringing mobile code to all Windows 10 devices, including Xbox and PCs. For those developers who spent time investigating the Android Bridge, we strongly encourage you to take a look at the iOS Bridge and Xamarin as great solutions.

Previous information showed that there was other reasons far more logical to kill this project. Technical problems have supposedly arose in the first few months of life of Astoria, which led their responsibles to delay it. Saying nothing about these problems and the silence on other channels -such as the developer forums- is not a good sign from Microsoft, who again lacks transparency.

The announcement makes one thing clear : Microsoft wants iOS developers to port their apps and games to Windows 10, and they’re trying to convince them with Project Islandwood. There’s other option for iOS and even Android ports: the recent acquisition of Xamarin could prove interesting to push the Windows 10 Mobile catalog as Microsoft pretends.

I doubt it more and more each day. Mobile World Congress was a missed oportunity for Microsoft -they should have published Windows 10 Mobile final version there- and I guess Xamarin is again part of their B plan. If they can’t win with their own platform, they will try to enter into other platforms through apps (Outlook, Cortana, Office), services (OneDrive, Skype) and developer tools (Xamarin).

Tough times to develop for Windows.